This is the best apple crumble ever recipe! They turn out great every single time. And I’ve made a lot of Apple Crumbles in my life — trust me on this. I’ve perfected my own version of apple crumble and want to tell everyone! It is really yummy and makes a great dessert. I’ve updated it here with some new photos, recipes, and directions to make it even easier. Everyone loves it!
How to make perfect crumble
The humble crumble must be one of our national treasures, but can anyone make it better than a dinner lady? What do you put under it, and what do you serve with it?
I’ve always been greedily interested in food. When I was five, I decided I was going to be the chef of my own restaurant – located underwater, naturally. I can still remember the menu I laboriously drew up: vegetable soup, roast chicken, apple crumble. Admirably balanced, I’d say, if perhaps a little light on seafood for the setting – and although I might go for something more adventurous on the savoury side today, I’d still pick a crumble over any number of chocolate fantasias or Pernod panna cottas for afters.
It’s the classic childhood pudding; hot, sweet, and incredibly comforting. The sad thing is that, although I’ve been trying for nearly two decades, I’ve never managed to make a crumble that matched up to the stuff we were served at school. Dot the dinner lady, I salute you – how I wish I’d asked for the recipe, instead of just seconds.
Crushed amaretti biscuits and cardamom seeds are all very well if you like that kind of thing, but I have a suspicion they weren’t in our school kitchen, so I seek out advice from less showy sources. Oddly, my National Trust book of Traditional Puddings makes no mention of crumble, and nor does Florence White’s Good Things in England – in fact, I’m surprised to discover, from Mary Norwak’s excellent English Puddings, that the first printed mention of the dish is in the 1950 edition of Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cookbook, an American publication. The Oxford Companion to Food suggests crumble probably originated in the second world war, as a quicker, easier alternative to pastry, and would have originally used whatever fat was available at the time.
In homage to these humble origins, I decide to start off with the plainest crumble recipe I can find, in Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Puddings (“comfort food of the highest order”). It contains just four ingredients: fruit, flour, sugar and butter. I briefly whizz 175g plain flour in the food processor with 175g butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs, and then stir in 100g caster sugar and sprinkle over a little water, so it comes together into “small pebbles”.
This goes on top of some stewed apples and blackberries, and into the oven at 200C for 30 minutes until golden and crisp, by which time the pink juices of the fruit have bubbled through the topping and caramelised promisingly on the surface (and, less happily, on the oven floor). The result is good; not as floury as previous recipes I’ve used, and without too much sponginess either; Nigel likes the soggy bit underneath, I’m more about the crisp top.
I’ve never heard of adding water to a crumble topping before, although now I know the history of the dish, it makes sense in a frugal sort of a way, and it certainly seems to have done the trick when it comes to binding the thing together. To make doubly sure, however, I’ve kept some of the mixture back, and this time, skip the water stage. The resulting crumble is a bit less craggy and interesting – it tastes the same, but with crumble, that’s hardly the point.
Nigella Lawson’s a woman who looks like she knows how to appreciate a good crumble – and her method in How to Eat intrigues me. She claims the texture of the topping is improved by giving the mixture a “quick blast in the deep-freeze” after it’s been rubbed together. (Alternatively, if you’re making the mixture ahead of time, you can simply store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use.)
The thinking behind this is presumably the same as with chilling shortbread dough, slowing the melting of the butter and thus helping the crumble to retain its pebbly shape while cooking. I give her recipe a whirl: 120g flour (she uses self-raising, but admits this is because the only other flour she keeps in the house is “Italian 00 and its qualities are just not required here”, so I substitute plain instead), 90g butter, and 6 tbsp sugar, rubbed together into a mixture that resembles “porridge oats”. Half goes into the freezer for 10 minutes, and the remainder goes into the oven immediately, on top of another bowl of stewed apple and blackberries. When they’re both ready, I look carefully. There’s not much in it, but the chilled mixture is indeed studded with a few more lumps and bumps than the one cooked straight away, which suggests that freezing is a good tip if you’re not pressed for time.
There’s the rub
Nigella also claims that rubbing the butter in by hand makes for a “more gratifyingly nubbly crumble; the processor can make the crumbs so fine you end up … with a cakey rather than crumbly texture”. Although I don’t find the mixing as “peculiarly relaxing” as she does (slamming a bit of dough around is far more fun), I’m not averse to going back to basics if it means saving on washing up, so I make another half batch of her recipe, and rub in the butter to the flour and sugar with my fingers (“index and middle flutteringly stroking the fleshy pads of your thumbs” as the domestic goddess puts it). Gratifyingly, I can’t tell the difference once cooked – but I would second her caution to go carefully if you’re using a food processor, and pulse it rather than switching it on full, or you’ll end up with tiny, floury crumbs.
The aforementioned Mary Norwak has stern views on crumble, which she condemns, in its English incarnation, as “dull and insipid”. We should take a leaf out of the American book, she says, by using fresh, rather than stewed fruit (something I do anyway, unless apples are concerned), and a crisp butter, brown sugar and spice topping.
As I’ve moved on to Victoria plums, I leave out the 6 tbsp water and 75g sugar in her recipe (they contain quite enough already), but I do top the halved fruit with her crumble mixture of 50g butter, 25g light soft brown sugar and 75g plain flour. To be fair to the other recipes, I omit the pinch of ground ginger too. I like the flavour of the soft brown sugar, but the fine texture makes the finished crumble topping a little sandy for my taste, which prompts me to consider alternatives. Granulated demerara sugar would add crunch and flavour, but also graininess, which I’m not keen on, so I eventually settle on a half and half demerara and golden caster sugar mix as a compromise.
Jane Grigson uses an equal mixture of ground almonds and plain flour – nuts seem to be a popular addition, often, as in the case of chopped hazel or walnuts, adding texture, but in this case, presumably melting into the crumble as a whole to flavour it. Nigel Slater suggests almonds go best with stone fruits, such as Jane’s apricots, or, in fact, my plums. I find her recipe slightly spongy though; the finely ground almonds seem to have turned the crumble into something rather like a cobbler which, although delicious, lacks some of the craggy crunch that makes the dish for me. Reducing the ratio, as Nigel suggests, to a quarter or a third of the flour weight, would help to lighten things up again, while retaining that lovely sweet, nutty quality.
Rolled oats are also a nice addition to an apple crumble, but I like a handful scattered on top, rather than mixed in, so they toast, rather than cook into a stodgy porridge below. Spices – ground cinnamon, ginger and so on – also work well in moderation. In fact, you can play around with flavourings, if you must, as much as you like, as long as you keep the mixture fairly light, and don’t overwork it. Crumble should be quick, simple – and served with thick custard. Birds, naturally.
I love apple pie, but I’m not so into making crust. Apple crumble is 1,000 times easier to make and, in my opinion, even better. I’ll take a thick, buttery cinnamon pecan crumble over a flaky crust any day. Below are answers to all your baking questions.
Do I need to peel the apples?
No! In fact, I prefer not to. The skin doesn’t affect the taste, or even the texture significantly, so it’s not worth the hassle. Plus, they look pretty as hell—especially if you’re using apples with a pinkish hue.
What kind of apples should I use?
Crisp, slightly tart varieties work best. Granny Smith is the most obvious choice and it’d be lovely here. My personal favorite: Mutsu. Look for it at the farmer’s market! Other great options: Jonagold, Honeycrisp, and Pink Lady.
Is it better to use melted, softened, or cold butter?
While we always insist on cold butter in our perfect pie crust (and even in my apple crisp!), it’s just not necessary here. We’re not looking for flakiness! Melted butter makes it easiest to incorporate all the crumble ingredients. And pecans offer a nice crunchy contrast to the slightly sandy, very crumbly butter-brown sugar combo.
How do I bake the crumble in ramekins (like the picture)?
If you want make dinner guests feel extra special by serving them individual apple crumbles, adapting the recipe is easy! Prep the apples and the crumble as the recipe instructs, just divide them both evenly between ramekins and place ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet before baking.
Can I prepare the crumble ahead of time?
Absolutely! If you want to prep the day before we recommend that instead of dumping the dry crumble on top of the fruit, just cover the bowl and the baking dish with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to bake. Or you can simply make the whole thing and reheat the following day in a 325º oven until the apple is bubbling.
What about ingredient substitutions?
This is such a versatile recipe, you can make a pear or peach crumble just by swapping out the fruit! Allergic to tree nuts? Swap out the pecans for something like peanuts or shelled sunflower seed or simply leave them out.
The Best Apple Crumb Pie
“The Best” fits this Apple Crumb Pie perfectly, sweet juicy apples with a light apple crumble topping!
prep time15 minutes
cook time1 hour 15 minutes
total time1 hour 30 minutes
- ▢1 frozen pie crust (or homemade)
- ▢1 cup flour
- ▢½ cup brown sugar packed
- ▢½ cup white sugar
- ▢1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ▢½ cup butter chilled and cubed
- ▢8 Granny Smith apples
- ▢⅓ cup white sugar
- ▢3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ▢½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ▢½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
- ▢1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ▢⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Combine all topping ingredients using a fork until completely mixed and crumbly.
- Peel, core, and slice apples into thin slices (approximately ⅛ inch). Toss apple slices with sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest (if using), cinnamon, & nutmeg.
- Layer apple slices in pie shell (it will be really full) and pour any leftover juice over the apples. Top apple slices with topping and pat it down over the apples. Place pie pan on a cookie sheet (they tend to drip over if really full, this will save your oven).
- Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45-55 minutes. (Poke the center of the pie to make sure the apples are soft all of the way through).
- Serve warm or room temperature.
The topping needs to be very well mixed to hold together, if it is powdery, it hasn’t been mixed enough. If needed, use your hands to mix it all together.
Be sure to keep an eye on your crumble topping. If it starts to brown too early, place a small piece of foil on top to keep it from burning.
I recommend Granny smith apples for their tart flavor and they hold their shape well.
You can freeze this pie either before or after baking. If frozen before baking, the pie can be baked from frozen. To bake from frozen, preheat the oven to 425°F and cover the pie loosely with foil. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and continue baking for an additional 45-55 minutes.